Reviewed on Xbox One
Less is more. That seems to be the theme behind Aer: Memories of Old, an open world exploration game developed by Forgotten Key. They’ve tried to create a simple game that is greater than the sum of its parts. The result is something that could have been remarkable, but doesn’t quite fit together the way it should.
Aer is set in a surprisingly beautiful post-apocalyptic world, and follows Auk, a young woman on a pilgrimage to find her place within the fractured environment. Narratively, Aer actually has a lot in common with the original Destiny. The story is basic; you’re on a quest to save the world, and just as Aer feels like it’s getting somewhere, it ends like my one-night stands, with barely a climax and no real conclusion. The credits literally roll during your confrontation with the big evil entity.
The handful of characters you meet during your journey aren’t interesting, mainly serving to guide you to point A and B. Auk herself doesn’t have any dialogue, so all she becomes is a vessel for the player to inhabit. She doesn’t have any personality beyond the way she stands during a conversation.
And just like Destiny, the more compelling stories are within Aer’s lore. At first, it felt like Aer’s world was empty; there’s nothing to actually do. No enemies to fight, nothing to collect. But as I travelled the shattered environment, I came across the titular memories. These are statuesque ghost-like figures of the long-gone inhabitants, as well as tablets and scrolls to read.
The memories deliver a much more compelling story, detailing the original collapse of the world and the fallout the people had to go through, and it’s done in a subtle and emotive way. That being said, it’s possible to skip all of these redeeming moments if you’re just trying to rush through the story. I’d encourage players to not do that, as the game would become very short.
Discovering the lore encouraged me to continue exploring, but the thing that enticed me in the first place was flying. Auk gains the ability to fly after trudging through the first dungeon, and it suddenly delivers an immense sense of freedom. The open world is impressive and passing through clouds, zipping between ancient buildings, or catching a wind current to another landmass all feels great, largely thanks to the simple yet responsive flight controls, along with some beautiful music and art. It was agonising to go back to walking and its slow tunes.
Unfortunately, much of the gameplay takes place in dungeons (or temples, as the characters call them), and Auk can’t fly within them. Instead, Auk is restricted to her sluggish jogging pace to traverse the different platforming puzzles. The northern dungeon was interesting to explore, but the other dungeons’ puzzles weren’t compelling and were easily solved in seconds. It’s a missed opportunity to not include some flight related puzzles within the dungeons, as that felt like Aer’s core mechanic.
The controls are simple but have one key weakness. For some reason the jump/transform and interact buttons on Xbox are both assigned to the A button. Why wasn’t ‘interact’ assigned to the Y button? It’s completely unused. Instead, I would often finish a conversation and try to fly off, only to start the conversation again. I was getting Ocarina of Time flashbacks.
I wanted to love Aer. It had so much potential to be a great exploration game but its tries too hard to be simple in every aspect. A game like this needs some complexity to really engage the player and leave a resonating impression. The thing that sits with me after playing is how great it was to fly through the environment, and that I wish there was more done with that. So no, I didn’t end up loving Aer. It didn’t feel like a complete experience. It’s just a game that I played. And probably won’t play again.